How to Prepare for Ramadan Marketing: Understanding Shifts in Shopper Behavior

Updated on May 8, 2024

Ramadan is almost upon us. The annual period, which is observed by nearly one-quarter of the world (or about 1.8 billion people), will tentatively begin this year on 15th May. Throughout this time, as Muslims focus on pillars like compassion, self-control, and social responsibility (among others), daily habits and consumer patterns change, affecting entire countries and populations around the globe.

At Criteo, we partner with over 18,000 customers and thousands of publishers, giving us insight into how 1.2 billion shoppers per month search, browse, and buy. We combined this massive amount of data with third-party commissioned research* on how consumer behaviour changes through the holy month and Eid in the Middle East, including United Arab Emirates (UAE) and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Turkey, and Southeast Asia (SEA).

While each individual within each market is unique, we looked for Ramadan marketing trends across several key markets to gain a better understanding of how and why behaviour changes.

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How Ramadan Affects Retail Sales

We know that Ramadan represents a significant cultural shift in consumer behaviour. In some parts of the world, these changes can affect an entire markets’ online shopping habits. Last year, weekly retail sales in the Middle East rose by 29% with Turkey increasing by 5%. Southeast Asia saw an average sales uplift of 52%, with Indonesia soaring at 80%.**

In 2017, brands in the Middle East saw significantly higher numbers of website visitors by 21%, compared to an average of the three-month period before.***

This is likely due to the traditional gifting during Eid al-Fitr, with 61% of respondents in KSA, 58% in UAE, and 24% in Turkey planning to buy gifts for others during Ramadan.

Top Ramadan Marketing Tips for Retailers and Brands:

  1. Start engaging your customers early as they begin thinking about buying gifts (even though they don’t always purchase as planned). Marketing near the beginning of Ramadan lets you provide a relevant and engaging message to help shoppers find presents for friends and family, while also allowing you to take advantage of lower CPCs during the first two weeks of the season.
  2. Continue to engage your audience with special offers, customized content, and gift ideas throughout the Ramadan period. By maintaining personalized connections, you’ll stay top-of-mind when people are ready to buy something special for their loved ones.

Shoppers strive to buy early, but end up buying late.

Interestingly, our qualitative research reveals that the majority of consumers plan to buy their 2018 Ramadan and Eid gifts before the holy month begins.

This is a marked difference from last year’s Criteo shopper data analysis, which showed that in 2017, sales increased week-on-week for the first, second, and third week of Ramadan, before falling in the final week towards Eid. Perhaps this is simply part of everyone’s ideal shopping strategy — to strive for buying gifts well ahead of time, only to end up with less time than originally planned.

Indexed online weekly sales during Ramadan. Baseline equals avg Index of 1 during Feb 10 – May 12, 2017

In terms of types of gifts, clothes, perfumes, and toiletries comprise the most popular product categories in the Middle East and Turkey. In Southeast Asia, toys and games, in addition to home and living products, tend to be popular.

Cash on delivery (COD) for online purchases dominates UAE, KSA, and Turkey, with over half of people planning to pay for items in this manner. The takeaway? During a Ramadan marketing campaign, you should offer multiple payment options for maximum success.

How Ramadan Affects Travel Bookings

From a travel perspective, much of the findings are in opposition to retail findings, with bookings increasing throughout the month right up until Eid. The Middle East sees an overall uplift in online travel bookings of 39% across Ramadan.

Sales spike in the third week of Ramadan with weekly travel sales increasing 75% and web visitors 89% higher in ME. This is likely because the extended holiday during Eid is widely utilized to visit family, especially in markets where there are significant volumes of expat audiences.

Many in UAE (38%) and KSA (42%) are planning on flying, compared to a relatively small percentage in Turkey (10%), where weekly retail sales showed a maximum uplift of +72% during Ramadan last year.

In Southeast Asia, travel sales gradually rise during Ramadan. The biggest uplift happens in the two weeks after Eid, when Indonesia in particular sees a 33% increase in travel sales.

Unlike the retail side of things, travel is predominantly booked through digital platforms. Only 13% in UAE, 15% in KSA, and 24% in Turkey buy through a travel agent or outlet, with the majority booking via digital channels, such as airline websites, apps, and online travel agents.

Indexed online weekly sales during Ramadan. Baseline equals avg Index of 1 during Feb 10 – May 12, 2017

As far as mobile sales, the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) has some of the world’s highest smartphone penetration rates, which reach over 220% in some markets. According to statistics issued by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), mobile phone usage increased to 228.3 phones per 100 people in the UAE in the first quarter of 2017. That means that on average, consumers have more than two devices each. According to reports from Google, UAE leads global smartphone penetration at 73.8 percent, so it makes sense that shopping and booking on mobile continues to rise in popularity.

Top Tips for Travel Advertisers:

  1. Start early to engage and inspire travelers, so when they’re ready to book, they’re aware of the top locations and best travel brands.
  2. Utilize a comprehensive, mobile-first strategy to connect with your audience through the platform they choose to engage with you on, whether mobile, web, or in-app.

*Source: TGM, Ramadan Consumer Behavior, UA, KSA & Turkey, 2018

**Indexed online weekly sales during Ramadan. Baseline equals average index of 100 during Feb 10 – May 12, 2017.

***For the Middle East, Criteo identified these trends through the analysis of over 4.2 million retail shopping transactions, and over 7.7 million travel sales bookings from 94 major advertisers in the region. For Turkey, Criteo analyzed over 9 million retail shopping transactions, and over 5.7 million travel sales bookings from 59 major advertisers in Turkey. For Southeast Asia, Criteo looked at over 44 million retail shopping transactions, and over 28 million travel sales bookings from 57 major advertisers in SEA. For all regions, travel sales bookings were viewed across desktop, smartphones, and tablets. Mobile sales include sales via mobile websites and apps, both on smartphones and tablets.

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